Gérard Mestrallet interview for Le Figaro (extract)


Gérard Mestrallet,  Chairman & CEO of ENGIE

Why are you engaged in the climate debate?

Mine is primarily a personal conviction. I’m not climate change skeptic, and I’m absolutely convinced that global warming could lead to catastrophe and inflict permanent damage on the balance of life on Earth. The other reason is for the benefit of companies, which need a clear, shared, common and, if possible, universal framework within which to operate.


What would the consequences be if the Paris climate change conference were to fail?

The failure of the Copenhagen summit in 2009 sent out a very bad sign. If the same were to happen in Paris, it would mark a return to uncertainty, an absence of forward visibility and the Balkanization of climate policies. It is absolutely essential that governments build a general framework for the long term. That will impose its own constraints, but that isn’t a problem. Failure in Paris would mean running the risk of leaving these issues unresolved for a long time.


Was it for the purpose of influencing these negotiations that you agreed to the request of Laurent Fabius and Ségolène Royal to coordinate a group of business leaders invited to contribute to the climate change negotiation discussions?

This group will contain around 40 business leaders from all industries in both hemispheres, including Angola, Brazil, the USA and China. We will be working closely with Laurence Tubiana, Special Representative of the French Minister of Foreign Affairs at the climate change negotiations. The idea is to encourage the world of business to enter into commitments and state them publicly. Three meetings have already been scheduled between these business leaders and COP21 negotiators. (…) But the idea is also to maintain the impetus after the summit. The fact that public decision-makers have expressed their desire to work alongside business is extremely positive, provided that they actually attend.


What kind of example is ENGIE setting?

We’re already committed to cutting our own CO2 emissions by 10% between now and 2020, and have set ourselves the target of doubling our renewables generating capacity by 2025 in Europe. In 2014, we also successfully issued green bonds with a face value of €2.5 billion to fund investment in renewables and energy efficiency. But I also believe in social entrepreneurship initiatives. We’ve set up a solidarity fund to provide technical and financial support for projects designed to bring energy to families experiencing energy poverty and those with no access whatsoever to energy. Whatever else may happen, COP21 will provide the opportunity to showcase and share good practices.


What is the most important measure we should introduce to keep global warming below 2°C?

We have to put a price on carbon and introduce a global market for carbon trading. It’s the key climate indicator and the best way of successfully reducing greenhouse gas emissions. I made this case at the UN Climate Summit last September, and we’ve signed the World Bank declaration on this issue.


But until now, the measures that were in place haven’t worked very well…

A coherent carbon pricing mechanism is crucial if we are to move in the right direction with the right investment. Some countries have made progress, and US states like California, and British Columbia in Canada, have opted in favor of carbon markets. China is also advancing in this direction very quickly. It already has seven separate markets, which should be combined into a single market by 2017. But the fact remains that introducing a global market will be a long and non-linear process. (…)


What do you think of the idea of introducing a general carbon tax?

The world of business is not in favor of it, because it would be impossible to harmonize. In too many cases, this option is tied to budgetary policy in individual countries (…).